We Are All Part of This "New Approach"
The 2013-2014 school year is underway and we are all off and running into the many challenges confronting public education. Sometimes when we run fast (at my age, I don’t do that too much anymore), we get caught up in a race mentality that detracts from our original purpose. It is at these moments that it is good to take a deep breath and remember our goal. We are all blessed with personal attributes that allow us to re-calibrate and re-balance our direction and speed. Drawing upon these attributes at times such as these is critical to our well-being. Therefore, I want to remind our readers about one of the best attributes available to each of us – Perspective.
Perspective remains one of life’s most valuable attributes for each of us. Often, during the most difficult of times, we find, maybe not comfort, but a new sense of balance for maintaining our direction. By way of example, I typically lament the ridiculous rhetoric that so often characterizes nasty political campaigns. The lack of civility, the “spin” of truthfulness and the feigned concern for the interests of society cause me to recoil and worry anew about our country’s future. Then I recall reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, wherein Thomas Jefferson wages a personally denigrating attack the likes of which make some of today’s escapades appear as child-play. Thank heavens for perspective! The reacquired balance doesn’t overcome the disappointment of the political process but allows me to be less distracted from my work.
My sense is that each of you has similar examples and stories to tell that also exalt the value of perspective. While “a penny held too close to the eye can blot out the entire sun,” perspective helps us to clearly determine that the size of the penny and the sun differ greatly. It is important to always be able to summon this differential of size in every avenue of life lest the pennies control our judgment and behavior!
We stand at the gate of a new school year that brings new thinking, new names and new approaches to public education in New Jersey. At first blush, the “new items” can be intimidating. After all, new approaches are always accompanied by new terminology, new acronyms and new nomenclature. The inclusion of Student Growth Objectives (SGO) and Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) along with documentation logs and climate surveys tend to dial-up the stress meter.
Before the stress level gets too high, let’s collectively move the penny from in front of our eye. The situation that confronts us, that “thing” at the gate, is a new approach. The approach will not replace the core of quality teaching. Successful teaching, that which yields measurable levels of increased student achievement, is still, and always will be, centered on personal connections between adults and students. There is no substitute process for teachers to make these connections. No new research disavows this prerequisite to learning. There is no new name for it. During this school year, making strong, healthy personal connections with students is the cornerstone for enhancing student achievement.
Educators have always been planful and able to utilize the curriculum to design instruction for our students. This hasn’t changed either. SGO’s bring a new description to our long-standing practice of goal-setting to drive our instruction.
Your district professional development approaches have always been centered around effective teaching research and best practice. District evaluation procedures have always been comprehensive and affirming of strong pedagogy.
So what has changed? Why is a new approach necessary? The answer is simple and complex at the same time. On the simple side, “change” is part of the fabric of existence. Every aspect of life is subject to change. Certainly, we are all thankful for the advances in medical research. The complex answer to the question is immersed in the fields of leadership, politics, economics and futuristics. A longer letter would be required for this explication.
As we move forward with the AchieveNJ initiatives, be assured that I anticipate that you will be successful. As the leaders and guardians of public education in New Jersey, we have experienced much success and I don’t believe the new mandates, designed to make all of us more effective, will reveal otherwise. We will all work a bit differently but we won’t be working harder because we already are doing that!
The important thought to take from all of this is that we are all part of this “new approach.” Given that the underlying purpose is to make teaching more effective and student achievement gains greater, I know that we will continue to be successful. As public education leaders here in New Jersey, the state’s lofty status for high levels of student achievement is a testament to your commitment and choices. Success is a choice and I salute all of the choices that you have made to put our students in a position of great advantage. Continue to work hard and maintain your sense of perspective so that our students can continue to excel.